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Kayvan Khalatbari: An entrepreneur on the road less-traveled

Pot, pizza and activism have been a winning formula for this Entrepreneur of 2016 finalist


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Kayvan Khalatbari

Founding Partner, Sexy Pizza and Denver Relief

Snapshot: Kayvan Khalatbari has his fingers in multiple pies, starting with pizza – as in his Sexy Pizza chain, with three Denver locations. It was the first venture in which the Nebraska native wedded his entrepreneurial endeavors with his fervent activism, with some sales earmarked to support organizations that advanced legalization of marijuana. Along those lines, Khalatbari also co-owns Denver Relief, the city’s longest continually operating dispensary. More recently, he’s moved into cannabis business consulting, with clients in 13 states.

Khalatbari sits on numerous boards, including the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra, mentors for the Denver Kids big brother/big sister program and is a founding member of the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation. He’s also co-owner of Sexpot Comedy, a multi-media comedy enterprise and a particularly fitting one for a man who used to dress up in a chicken suit to harass then-Mayor John Hickenlooper about his views on cannabis legalization.

Advice for my younger self: I'd tell myself not to take anything too personally. As an entrepreneur who does some things a little off the beaten path, it's not uncommon that I face some resistance from time to time from neighbors, government, friends, family. While it's important to have passion and pride in your work and efforts, you shouldn't allow criticism to dictate your drive and positivity.

I'm an entrepreneur because I want to create my own destiny in a manner I see most appropriate based on my experiences and my environment, and that doesn't always fit in with popular belief. Being an entrepreneur is being bold, confident and well-intending. If you do that, everything else will work out, even if it doesn't work out the way you planned it to.

My biggest business challenge: Dealing with the process and aftermath of a partnership dispute that ended in monetary bleed, uncertainty amongst staff and a blow to my own attitude, confidence and ego. I've now done it twice, under very different circumstances and with two different businesses, but with painfully similar experiences. The duration of these disputes, the cost ― they make it hard to sleep, to feel like you're doing the right thing.

The fix comes from reiterating the mission and vision of the company with partners and employees, reviewing everything you do and using that as an opportunity for rebirth and reinforcement. It's important to be honest and humble about our shortcomings, to make an effort to get better every day and not waiver from that initial intent. Any challenge is one that can be overcome, even if that outcome isn't what you had in mind when you set out on this journey. Life is unpredictable, as it should be, and to overcome life's challenges is to roll with the punches.

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Lisa Ryckman

Lisa Ryckman is ColoradoBiz's managing editor. Contact her at lryckman@cobizmag.com.

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